Active citizenship offers a concrete solution in Dutch asylum-crisis
31 August 2022
Written by: Sascha Pimentel
Translated by: Luuk Speckens
The large amount of commotion in Albergen regarding the placement of a shelter for asylum seekers and the inhumane living conditions in Ter Apel are both indications of the shortcomings of governmental policy, shortcomings that have lasted for several decades. Experiences abroad, as well as those of involved citizens, show us that there is room for improvement, says Sascha Pimentel of human rights organisation Justice and Peace.
The Dutch reception of refugees has two faces: across from the widespread and welcoming local initiatives stands a calculated and inflexible governmental policy. Entrepreneurs from the city of Groningen gathered €12.500 in a recent fundraiser, organised in order to buy tents for those who are sleeping outside the gates of the refugee registration centre in Ter Apel. ‘We are not trying to intervene in politics, but people should not have to sleep outside’, said Willem Straat, one of the donors.
Involved citizens, an unreachable government
Law enforcement officers and policemen even seized these tents, which resulted in yet again, a significant amount of refugees that spent the night in the cold, wet grass. It seems to be the repetition of a certain event: when citizens help where the government does not, policymakers turn a blind eye.
During refugee-crises in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, citizens responded in a more alert and adequate manner than the government. They opened up their doors, gathered emergency resources, and helped newcomers with the language or practical matters. Language buddies, host families, and volunteers keep showing that people want to, and can arrange a stay for others. Despite these efforts, the government still does not see any reason to encourage or support active citizenship, even when the central organisation of asylum is falling short, and never-ending legal procedures have a dehumanising effect. said state secretary for Asylum and Migration Eric van der Burg, when possibilities for refugee centres on sea were seriously considered.
Indifferent to a situation that could have been foreseen and prevented, the government does not seem open to long-term solutions that have been proven to work in neighbouring countries. Solutions that enjoy enough support in society, with which responsibility could be distributed in a better way.
Neighbouring countries do better
In 2016, the United Nations called upon countries to create legal and to Europe. Nowadays, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom, allow refugees to travel with the help of community-based sponsorship, humanitarian corridors or student visas. Together with civil initiatives, local organisations, religious communities, universities and other parties, the government prepares for the arrival of refugees. After their arrival, guidance is provided by all of the involved parties.
The basis of this policy can be found in the recognition of the fact that denying refugees access or providing isolating accommodation the region is not a viable solution. Not for countries that are already , nor for refugees themselves, whom at times reside in camps for two generations, nor for Europe, that has always depended on migration.
We have to ask ourselves what the long-term effect is of current Dutch policy. How does it deny people with a legitimate right to international protection, and what does it deprive an aging society? If the government creates more legal routes to our country and involves more parties in the implementation of migration and refugee policy, we can better prepare for the arrival of refugees. Moreover, we offer perspective both to newcomers and society. The Ukraine crisis shows what governments can do together with residents if we don’t refugees, but help them.
More than language lessons and learning modules
Because of the new Integration Law, municipalities became responsible for the integration process. Integrational policies should, instead of the unidimensional application of language lessons and learning modules, also be about daily interactions between people that want listen to and support one another. The related policies should foster participation, social connections, taking part in society in a relevant way: it should not be about adaption, but about inclusion.
Lessons from civil initiatives
There is a large amount of bottom-up initiatives in the Netherlands that help newcomers with getting their new lives started. where Dutch households offer a temporary place to stay for residents of refugee camps that are waiting for accommodation. Or the Refugee Company, where newcomers are being prepared for the labour market through practical learning programs at social enterprises. Likewise, there is Samen Hier, a movement where groups of Dutch citizenprovide support to refugees during the year after their arrival, using their time, network and resources.
With these concrete and realistic initiatives, inhabitants, organisations and companies provide a softer landing for refugees. They create social spaces, where people build compassion, and improve their knowledge of one another. By doing this, they indicate great lessons for the future, lessons to be adopted by our government.
Lesson 1 teaches us that governmental policies make insufficient use of the talents and skills of refugees. Out of all the people that have immigrated to the Netherlands since 2014, less than 50% worked a paid
Lesson 2 shows us that citizens are a key feature in the integration of newcomers, not as social workers, but as co-habitants of villages and cities. Research tells us that most people find their job through their networks. Why wouldn’t we use this insight to help people who want to make something out of their lives? Current policies barely mention activities focused on establishing networks, or on making social interactions accessible. On top of achieving goals set by integration laws, networking and interaction could be the key to a more cohesive city, village or neighbourhood.
Lesson 3 tells us to stimulate connections between newcomers and established citizens. Here we focus on supporting new connections as well as maintaining them, so that everyone in spite of their , can be a human being.
Conversely, in the Netherlands, the decision of the government to house refugees without explicit agreements with local residents caused local resistance and hardened views on refugees.
Where do we start?
Instead of enforcing rules upon society, citizens should be involved in the process of organising small-scaled reception projects for refugees. This way, local communities won’t experience any drastic changes, but on the contrary experience enhanced social cohesion, and a better integration of newcomers. Let us take rational solidarity as a starting point to divide responsibilities, not
The government must take clear decisions about her role and those of citizens and civil society. Specifically, this means that involved citizens and existing initiatives should come together and stand, by principle of equality, in with incoming refugees.
Civil initiatives and organisations can share their best practices and needs amongst each other, coordinate their resources and have conjoined conversations with governments. Together they can call for the opportunity and (financial) support to fulfil their potential roles to the fullest. Municipalities should share responsibilities regarding integration amongst inhabitants and organisations, while the national government creates the legal possibilities to make it possible for communities to invite people at their own initiative.
The successful examples in our neighbouring countries provide sufficient input to start in the Netherlands as well, to unite humanitarian, social and economic interests as effectively as possible. This is not easy, but ultimately offers the best outcome for everyone: government and citizens, both new and established.
Human rights organisation Justice & Peace is the founder of Samen Hier. This movement of local communities works with partners on alternative safe routes and creates safe havens for people fleeing their homes.